When my son, Cade, was a baby, I was putting him in his carseat one day and I accidentally bumped his head as I lowered him in. He looked at me with an expression of shock and said, “Mommy! We don’t want to hurt your precious baby!”
His assumption was clear. I was his mom and I loved him. He was my precious baby. So it seemed inconsistent that I would not prevent him from being hurt. He was shocked that I had.
How do you respond when God allows you to get hurt? How do you pray after he fails to prevent the pain you’re experiencing? Or when he fails to do the thing that would seem most consistent with his kind and loving character?
Bible Passage: John 11:38-44 and12:10-11
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Music: Cade Popkin Music
The True Story of Lazarus
The two women in our story today are experiencing this very thing. Mary and Martha both know Jesus could have prevented their brother from dying, but he didn’t show up. Then when he shows up four days late, they say, “Jesus, if you were here…” They don’t say but seem to imply: “Why didn’t you come? Don’t you care?”
In this True Story of Easter Series we’re talking through some pieces of the story which make us look at Jesus with jaw-dropping astonishment. He doesn’t do what we expect him to do. And this story is no exception. I’m going to be talking through some of the story elements that we find in John 11 and 12, and then I’ll be retelling the True Story of Lazarus.
- We talked about the characters in the story, and what the “extras” in the scene help us to see.
- We talked about how the two types of people respond to Jesus.
It’s interesting to me that only John includes this story of Lazarus. Now remember, that after Jesus raised him from the dead, the Jews wanted to kill him. He was not only raised, he was talking about it. Politically, this was a problem, and they wanted to shut him up. You can hear more about that, in my conversation with Mary.
But I’m just wondering if perhaps, by the time John is writing, if Lazarus is either safe or deceased. Perhaps the other writers didn’t include this story because it might be more inflammatory for Lazarus. Of course, I’m not sure, but that’s a thought.
So for whatever reason, the other writers don’t mention Lazarus’s death and resurrection, but John does. And he doesn’t just report that it happened, he tells us what happened in the form of a story. John is a great storyteller.
Extras in the Scene
If we were to list out the characters, we’d start with Jesus, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. We might add in Thomas or the other disciples and what they thought about returning to Bethany at such a politically charged moment.
But let’s notice the Jews from Jerusalem, mentioned many times in the text. These guys are most likely the religious elite, and they’ve shown up to grieve with Mary and Martha. And here’s what interests me: These Jews aren’t essential to the plot of the story. You could take them out and still have the essential parts of the story.
Authors and playwrights and movie directors often use extras in a scene to help us see something significant. Maybe the main character does something surprising and a random woman looks over at him in surprise. So what about these Jews – the extras – in our scene? What is John trying to show us?
John first mentions they are there, and then pulls them into the story when Mary gets up to go meet Jesus. John 11:30-34 says, “Now Jesus… was still in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with [Mary] in the house, consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came, where Jesus was, she saw him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus, therefore, saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” (Bold emphasis added.)
Grieving over Unbelievers
It makes sense that Mary is weeping. You know how it is at a funeral, when someone you love shows up, and you have this fresh wave of grief because your friend is there to grieve with you? I think it’s like that with Jesus. John tells us that Jesus sees her crying, but then he tells us that Jesus sees them crying. Jesus looked at Mary crying, then he looked at the Jews crying, then he became deeply moved in his Spirit.
Remember, last time we talked about how this emotion is difficult to describe. Jesus is deeply sad. He’s indignant. He’s angry—not that people are crying, but that people are dying.
Suppose you were an architect or a builder of one of the buildings being bombed in Ukraine right now. You see your beautiful building—the one you designed or built, being turned to rubble. Well, that’s sort of what Jesus is experiencing. He loves Lazarus, but he also is the “I Am” who created Lazarus. Jesus has just told us that He is the resurrection. He’s the author of life. He is the one who can take a handful of dirt and breathe life into it and turn it into a man. And yet, because of sin, death is now robbing his friend of the gift of life, and I think it makes Jesus angry in an indignant, sort of way. He’s very sad, but he’s also angered.
And so, like Mary Kassian pointed out in the last episode, it’s likely that Jesus is angered by death itself, but he also seems to be responding to the Jews who are crying. Notice that both times his grief follows mention of these Jews.
Because of Jesus’s first emotional response, the Jews have varying responses—which prompts Jesus’s second emotional response. Part of them say, “See how he loved Lazarus.” The others are cynical. I picture them sort of sneering as they say, “He healed blind people. Could he not have healed Lazarus?” I’m guessing that among this second group are the ones who are going to go tattle to the chief priests, here in a moment.
Ultimately these sneering, unbelieving Jews are the ones who will cause the dominoes to start to fall toward the cross. And Jesus isn’t some wimpy, flatline character who numbs out or shrugs it off. Jesus gets emotional! He’s come as their Messiah, to save his people from their sin, and they don’t believe. Their hearts want to murder him instead of trust in him.
Not Just Mary
The Moody Commentary says, Jesus’s anger appears to be directed at [the Jews’] lack of faith in what God could do, especially through Jesus. This so moved the Lord that He wept at their unbelief. Note that the two significant examples of Jesus weeping (this and Luke 19:41) were in response to the unbelief of the Jewish people.” (That other example from Luke 19 is when Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem.)
So in summary, I think these “extras” in the scene help us see that Jesus is responding to more than just Mary’s grief and sorrow. He’s responding to the whole unfolding story of a chosen people rejecting the very Messiah sent to save them.
Live Like It’s True
How can we live like this story is true? I think there’s great temptation to respond exactly like skeptical Jews, when we’re watching a faithful follower of God who’s hurting. We look at their grief and their struggle, and we think, “This is what she gets for following You, God? This is how you reward her?”
I have several friends right now who are grieving. Some have sickness. Some have kids who are going through a divorce. Some have church splits. And in dark moments, I can hear my heart wanting to say, “Wait. Jesus loves you, and he let this happen to you? Could he not have stopped it?”
But here’s the reality. We live in the broken. We walk among the broken. We live in a world that is absolutely sagging under the weight of sin. That’s our reality. But here also is our reality: This is only for a season. Like Lazarus, we will rise again! We will have new life in the new creation. All of the pain and grief of the broken world we know will be swallowed up in victory.
I think living like it’s true means crying over the broken. That’s what Mary was doing, and she was right to do it. That’s what Martha was saying, when Jesus talked about rolling away the stone. It’s gonna stink, Lord! Our world is broken. That’s how it is. There’s no place in the story where God asks you to fake like the brokenness of the world can’t hurt you. It can and it will. It hurt Jesus! It angered him.
But living like it’s true also means anticipating the day when our King Jesus will return and make all things new.
Retelling the Story of Lazarus:
Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, was gravely ill. So the two sisters sent word to Jesus. They knew Jesus loved their brother and they hoped he’d come. But he didn’t. He delayed and Lazarus died. The sisters were devastated.
When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, Martha went out to meet him, but Mary stayed back at the house, where Jews from Jerusalem had come to console her. When Martha saw Jesus, she said, “Lord, if you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.” But Jesus told her that her brother would rise again. He said, “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha affirmed that yes, she believed that Jesus was the Messiah.
Then Martha went to tell Mary that Jesus had arrived and was asking about her. When Mary got up and rushed out, the Jews assumed she was going to the tomb and they followed her. But Mary was going to Jesus. She said, “Lord, if you were here, he wouldn’t have died.”
When Jesus looked at Mary’s tears and the tears of the Jews with her, Jesus became deeply emotional. The Jews, who saw Jesus’s reaction said, “Look how the loved him!” But others said, “Could he not have kept Lazarus from dying?”
Then Jesus came to the tomb and asked them to remove the stone. Martha said, “Lord, by now there will be an odor!” But Jesus reminded her, “Didn’t I tell you that you’d see the glory of God?” Then Jesus prayed out loud so that everyone could hear and believe, and thanked God for hearing his prayer. Then with a loud voice, Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!”
And he came out, bound in his grave clothes, so Jesus said, “Let the guy go!” So people came from far and wide to see Lazarus, and hear his story. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death, because people were hearing his story and believing in Jesus.